Home Ask The Expert Ask the Expert: Should Diabetics Consume Artificial Sweeteners Like Aspartame?

Ask the Expert: Should Diabetics Consume Artificial Sweeteners Like Aspartame?

Malaysian Dietitians' Association member and practising dietitian Ng Gaik Lian tells us about artificial sugars and whether they're safe to consume.

Artificial Sweeteners

Question:

Is it advisable for a diabetic patient to consume artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin etc?

Answer:

Artificial sweeteners (also known as non nutritive sweeteners; NNS) are safe to be used by the general public, people with diabetes, pregnant and lactating women as part of their strategy in managing blood sugar level or total energy intake. It is a particularly helpful choice for those who love sweetened beverages but are afraid of extra calories and carbohydrates.

Having said that, every coin has two sides. There are numerous research showing that the usage of NNS is associated with:

  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Increased hunger which eventually leads to weight gain
  • Possibility of allergic reaction such as skin irritation and swelling
  • Alteration of gut system such as bloated stomach, nausea, and vomiting
  • Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety

However, there is still a lack of scientific evidence, especially long-term studies, to support the cons above.

So, we go back to the basics – use wisely! Try to train your taste buds for less sugar and / or less sweet and enjoy the true flavour of food.

Below are some of the commonly used NNS approved by the FDA in the United States.

Non-Nutritive Sweeteners Approved by the FDA, United States

Non-Nutritive Sweeteners Characteristics
Aspartame (Equal)180 times sweeter than sugar
Provides 4 kcal/g
Contains phenylalanine, contraindicated in PKU
Acesulfame potassium200 times sweeter than sugar
Heat stable
Does not provide energy or affects serum potassium levels
Saccharin 300-400 times sweeter than sugar
Heat stable
Sucralose (Splenda)600 times sweeter than sugar
Heat stable
Stevia (EverSweet)250 times sweeter than sugar
Extracted from stevia leaves
Tastes bitter at high amount

There are also some NNS approved by other countries but not the United States like Alitame, cyclamate, neohesperidine, and thaumatin. 

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Ask the Expert is where we answer questions on all aspects of your health and wellness. Send in your health-related questions to expert@healthworks.my.

 

Contributed by: Ng Gaik Lian, Dietitian at University Malaya Medical Centre; who is also part of HealthWorks Expert Network.

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